Shame Is Never Hidden-Even If We Can’t See It

by Ed

If there’s one thing I hate doing on a Friday evening, it’s working on a plumbing project. It’s even worse if it’s in a tight space. And it’s especially miserable if a toilet is involved. A few weeks ago I had the holy trinity of plumbing misery, the hat trick of plumbing madness: a toilet project in a tight space on a Friday night.

wrench-rust-shame

This wasn’t a major repair. I just had to add a sprayer hose to our toilet for cloth diapering. Some may argue that the worst was yet to come (I’d be inclined to agree). Regardless, it was a really, really easy project.

I watched a video on YouTube just to make sure I had it right, worked my hand under the tank, gave the plastic washer a twist, and promptly sent water flooding the bathroom floor.

How did I manage to screw up a really simple project? I fiddled with it and mopped up my mess as I continued to struggle. This couldn’t be THAT hard?

As if a button had just been pushed, I started to fume, thinking angry thoughts and getting frustrated with myself. It evolved and compounded and expanded until I was completely undone, hardly able to think logically.

This was supposed to take a few minutes, but instead I took a mental health break.

As I tried to calm down over this silly little project, I also caught myself asking stark existential questions: “What is wrong with me?” “Why am I so incompetent at everything?” “Is there anything I can do well?”

I hesitate to use the word because it’s a bit overused these days, but I finally accepted that this minor little plumbing project had “triggered” something for me. My response was above and beyond all reason. I’d clearly turned the wrong thing and just needed to regroup with another YouTube video before trying again.

However, the negativity continued to rage in my mind. I was paralyzed by my rage and apparent incompetence.

Thankfully my wife was downstairs grading papers during all of this, so I started recounting my failures to her.

The more I expressed my exact feelings to her, the more I realized that something like this has happened before…

I was trying to change the kitchen sink faucet at our new home, and I couldn’t fit the wrench up near the top of the faucet where it connected to the water supply. I honestly didn’t know if we’d ever have a functioning kitchen sink.

Why am I so incompetent with tools?

I was working at a church office and needed to hammer a nail into the wall. I grabbed the hammer awkwardly and tapped at it. As I pulled the hammer back to swing again, another staff member pulled the hammer out of my hand.

“You’re making me nervous with how you’re holding that hammer!” he said before taking over on the nail.

What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I hammer a nail in?

I was changing the oil on my Toyota Corolla in a friend’s driveway while in college. The nut for the oil pan had been fastened quite tight by the oil change shop I’d taken it to a few months before. I yanked and pulled on that nut, but I couldn’t make it budge as I’d done before.

I learned several years later that I had a larger ratchet that I should have used in order to gain more leverage.

Why am I so weak and stupid?

I was 12 years old and my dad was making me mow the lawn. Only this was back before our relationship improved dramatically, and he kept yelling at me because I didn’t mow straight lines. The more he yelled, the more I cried, the more I veered off track, and the more he yelled.

Can’t I handle walking in a straight line?

These were small events in the grand scheme of things if you took them all on their own. However, I’d created a narrative of failure throughout my personal history. These were an army of tiny spikes that added up to create significant pain, frustration, and self-doubt.

The light came on for me. I’ve always struggled with mechanical or handy work. You could say I was impatient. That night I realized that it wasn’t a matter of being more patient. I needed less shame. I needed to stop seeing myself as an incompetent failure, playing judge and jury for myself, eager to condemn. I’d let shame override anything that God could say about myself.

I needed a new narrative.

Kneeling down to pull the washer off the toilet, I rooted around again, this time finding the right place to unscrew the hose. There was no mess. There was no anger or foot stomping. I removed the old hose, attached the new hose with the valve and sprayer, and walked downstairs.

I settled down next to my wife having made a minor change to our toilet’s water supply while also making the first of many important changes to my view of myself.

The Person Playing Alongside Me

by Katherine Willis Pershey

trombone

[Photo: My dad and me, circa 1991.]

I played trombone for eight years, from fifth through twelfth grades. I was okay, I guess. I would have been better if I ever practiced, but thankfully the genes I inherited from my father, a professional musician, carried me through. This is the odd part: I didn’t especially like playing the trombone, but I loved playing the trombone. When I say I didn’t especially like playing, I mean the actual playing. But when I say I loved playing the trombone, I mean the people.

Playing the trombone meant that I got to make my first friend-who-was-a-boy, Travis, in the fifth grade. During our final concert in the sixth grade, I realized that the buttons on my peach button-up skirt had come unbuttoned, thanks largely to the way I had to hold my trombone in between my legs during breaks in the performance. I’ll never forget frantically asking Travis to hold my trombone for me so I could button myself back up again. He didn’t even tease me about it. That moment solidified our friendship, which persisted through many a heated argument about politics.

And then there was Matt, my first real boyfriend who gave me my first real kiss while we were on a jazz band trip. It amuses me to think of all the flirting we did during band class, the whole time sporting those trademark bright red circles you get on your lips while you play the trombone.

I was the only girl trombone player in my grade, but two girls in the grade ahead of me played trombone, too. I cannot tell you how wildly cool they were (and still are). As fun as it was to be the only girl in the section, it was so much better with Helen and Joy. I had such a great time during my first week of band camp I didn’t want to go home. And this, even though we spent nine hours a day practicing.

People laugh when I say that I was only in band for the social scene, but it’s true. I quit cold turkey after I graduated from high school, and I can honestly say one of my few regrets is not playing in the college marching band. I would have had a blast.

After not playing the trombone for nearly a decade, after thinking of myself as a former trombone player who would never, ever take it up again, I started playing again. I even started playing again on a beautiful, brand new silver trombone. I didn’t start up again out of latent love for the actual instrument, but because of a person. Gary. He’d been homeless when he started turning up at my church in California. One of his few possessions was a beat-up trumpet he carried with him everywhere he went; he kept it slung on his shoulder by a strap woven of empty latex balloons. After he was ticketed for playing on the pier without a permit, our music director invited him to play in worship. There wasn’t a dry eye in the sanctuary the first time he played Amazing Grace.

About a year after church members helped him connect with a program and get off the street, Gary presented me with a large wrapped box during worship on my birthday. It was a silver Olds; his roommate’s family had owned a music shop back in the day, and he’d shopped their inventory closet. The gift was given on the condition that we play duets together in worship. After eleven years, my chops were rather rusty, but it was such an unexpected joy to play again, and with Gary, I didn’t even care. Nor did our congregation. No matter what we played together, it sounded like amazing grace.

Yesterday morning – Thanksgiving Day – I played a duet with my father. I’d told my new church the story of Gary and my nearly new silver trombone, and people had started to wonder when I was going to actually play the thing. Our Thanksgiving worship service is “come as you are,” and that seemed like just the right context for me to play as I do, which is to say not very well. Once again, I’d let my embouchure entropy, so that I sounded like a beginner all over again when I pulled it out of the case a couple of weeks ago. But my father has chops. I figured his trumpet could cover up some of the mistakes in the trombone part. We reprised the first duet I played with Gary: We gather together, to ask the Lord’s blessing; he hastens and chastens his will to make known…

After all this time, after all these years, the best thing about playing the trombone is the person playing alongside me.

 

Mary’s Song (and my own blessed mother, too)

by Megan

mary jesus joseph

My mother loves her some Amy Grant.

Because of this, I have the entire Amy Grant canon memorized. I can sing you under the table when it comes to Amy. We listened to Amy everywhere, all the time when I was growing up. On Walkmans with big ol’ clunky headphones in the backyard and from speakers on a boombox in the house and in the tape deck of the family station wagon, Amy’s voice provided the soundtrack for most of my growing up years.

You can imagine, then, that her Home For Christmas album is one I turn to often this time of year, and not just for nostalgic reasons. I genuinely love hearing her voice sing the traditional Christmas classics, and there is one song on that album that means more to me than most: Breath of Heaven.

Wherever I am when I play that song, I can hear my mom’s trembly alto singing quietly along. And for some reason, in my memory of her singing the lyrics to this understated but powerful song, I think of hours spent with her and my youngest sister in the station wagon, driving back and forth to appointments, the way our family marked time in my childhood.

My youngest sister had her first seizure at nine months old. Life forever after that was doctor’s offices and adjusting medication and parents distracted by the turmoil of parenting a special needs child decades before the community that is the internet reached out to reassure parents that they were not alone.

There are so many things that those of us who are currently parenting little ones have access to that my parents just did not. Perhaps if they had, they might have known earlier that not only did my sister suffer from epilepsy, she also was on the autism spectrum, undiagnosed until she was an adult with Asperger Syndrome.

But they didn’t know, so they did the best they could with what was known at the time. Doctors, therapists of every variety, specialists: these were the appointments around which my mother’s world revolved, and rarely were they located in our small town in Oklahoma. So, we logged many miles together, and often we sang on the way.

This is how and why I think of my mother when I hear “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” I think of her behind the steering wheel, eyes on the road, mumble-singing along:

I am waiting in a silent prayer

I am frightened by the load I bear

In a world as cold as stone

Must I walk this path alone?

Be with me now, be with me now

I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to parent a child with special needs in the decades before we were connected by online community. Before blogs, before message boards, before Facebook groups. If you were mothering a child with needs beyond those you could meet, who held your hand and walked you through diagnosis shock and listened to your heart aches and propped you up when discouragement ran you over?

Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me

Did she wonder if God had made a mistake, that she wasn’t smart enough or patient enough or strong enough to guide my youngest sister through the difficulties served up to her by life? So many questions she must have had, and so few people with whom she could talk it out.


Help me be strong. Help me be. Help me.  The heart-cry of all of motherhood, perhaps felt most intensely in a time when it was starkly clear that His help was all she had. Alone and at times scared, and like Mary, confused and desperate for hope. From behind that steering wheel, she unknowingly paved a road for me, one that I would return to years later when I became a mother myself, the path that led me straight to throne room of God.

Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, Breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness for You are holy

Love Notes

by Dulce

Piano Fingers

The first time I saw him was in a Spanish Club meeting my first semester of college.  I, who had always rolled my eyes at “love at first sight” stories, was knocked for a loop.   When I realized that I was staring, I forced myself to transcribe a rather boring meeting nearly word for word, hoping that taking notes would distract me.  It didn’t work.  I still had an argumentative internal dialog between my rational self and my intuitive self.

Intuitive Self–swoons (OK, perhaps I’ve read too many historical romance novels)

Rational Self–Get a grip. He’s probably married.

Intuitive Self–He’s not wearing a ring.

Rational Self–You don’t even know if he’s a Christian.

Intuitive Self–Yes, he is. I can tell.

Rational Self–Based on what? The only words he’s said so far are his name and “nice to meet you”–hardly conclusive.

Intuitive Self–No, there is something about him…

Rational Self–snorts and rolls eyes

We met a few days later at our city’s Hispanic Festival. He was wearing a Christian T-shirt (Intuitive Self: sticks out tongue). He and my mom had a nice conversation while I tried to keep Intuitive Self on a leash. As soon as we left, she turned to me and said, “You need to marry him. And you would have gorgeous children”. (Intuitive Self: applauds and cheers Mom).

His office was located inside the International Language Lab, and I happened to spend a lot of time there (I won’t lie, that time increased after we met).  One day the subject of music came up and I lamented the dearth of Spanish language music at our Christian book store (this was, of course, back in antiquity before simply ordering something online was done).  The next time that I bumped into him, he smiled and handed me a tape that he had made of his favorite Spanish praise and worship music.  I listened to it constantly.

We talked about our favorite songs from the tape, and he suggested that we go to the piano rooms.  It became a regular thing that on days where we both had time in between classes we would meet and play our favorite songs.  For the more prurient minded, the closest physical contact was sitting next to each other on the piano bench ;)

We had many things in common–ties to both Hispanic and US culture, our love for God, similar interests.  On the other hand, I had grown up in the Gothardite courtship movement, which meant that I had never dated, never had a boyfriend, and that I was never supposed to.  Theoretically, God would issue a divine decree to my dad about “the one” and they would eventually inform me.  My job was to “not give away any pieces of my heart” (let alone my body), and to joyfully submit.  But in the meantime, there was the gray area of being “just friends”.   The awkwardness that resulted from all this would fill a book.

One of the songs on the tape he gave me was Marcos Witt’s Tu amor por mí:

Tu amor por mí (Your love for me)

Es más dulce que la miel (Is sweeter than honey)

Y tu misericordia es nueva cada día (And your mercy is new every day)

Es por eso que te alabo (That is why I praise You)

Es por eso que te sirvo (That is why I serve You)

Es por eso que te doy todo mi amor (That is why I give you all my love)

That was one of Carlos’ favorite songs.  I blushed every time he played it, conscious of the word play and secretly hoping that the love for him would be Dulce.  But there was that whole courtship thing.  I agonized over the tiniest step in our relationship.  The very first Valentine’s Day after we met, Carlos showered me with extravagant gifts.  And because it didn’t fit in the courtship paradigm, I gave them all back. (I wasn’t kidding about the awkwardness.)   Being courageous and patient, as well as persistent, Carlos didn’t give up.  I received that new mercy each day from him and God both.

We began to exchange letters since our time on campus wasn’t enough for the conversations we wanted to have.  I still have them.  Each of them, though most were not romantic in the traditional sense, were love notes.  They revealed our hearts to each other, the things that mattered, the inconsequential jokes, all the details that add up to love.

It took about four years before we became engaged, and there was plenty of drama when the courtship approach didn’t follow the script (Rational Self became very helpful during this period).  But fourteen years of marriage and four kids later, we still pull out the CD with that song on road trips (the kids groan every time).  We glance at each other out of the corners of our eyes just like we did in the piano room nearly twenty years ago and smile.  With all the ups and downs, love for each other and God’s love for us has been sweet.  There has been new mercy each day, and that has caused us both to give all of our love.

 

Image credit: Marcus Yeagley

The Coventry Carol

by JenL

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Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

The first time I heard this song, it was not performed in a church candlelit service on Christmas Eve. Luminaria did not line the snowy walks to the castle of a church we attended. The quiet melody was not being thrummed out on a harp or a piano. No red cheeked cherubs dressed in white robes sang forth.

Instead, I heard the song on the slapdash tape deck my brother had installed in the ’78 Chevy Malibu our grandfather had left to us. It was 1989 and the version I heard was performed by Alison Moyet on A Very Special Christmas Album. Madona, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and Bob Seger all had tracks on this album.

Alison Moyet’s voice is singular; rich and deep and sort of like British synth pop syrup. If there was anything the world needed at Christmas time in 1989, it was a Yaz-like version of a Jesus in a manger song.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

My sister and I had it looping that Christmas, my first Christmas as a college student. She took the harmony parts while we washed dishes in the kitchen. She sang it in the shower, perfecting her Loos and Lees. I rolled my eyes; let’s just say she got the vocal talent in the family. 

But it was easy. Easy to focus on the harmony and the delicate tune. It was fun to be at home, with my family, while the world swirled by. It was easy to rewind, back and back and back, to the pleasant lilt of the chanting. But oh. That song grabs me. It’s the old bait and switch, because the lullaby sound does not prepare the listener for the kick in the maternal heart that is coming.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

So, yeah. That whole killing of all the young babies thing comes up in this sweet little lullaby. And that’s not super pleasant. And I don’t want to watch fat cheeked cherubs sing about infanticide. I don’t really want to think about the part of the story where a power hungry king sends his minions to find the Christ child…and all the children. I want to get back to the loo lees and loo lays. I want to get back to the Yaz-stylings. 

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Except it is part of the story. And it’s ugly. Brutal, even. And the song, the tune together with the lyrics, is a lovely balance of the Christian life. The beauty of birth and the violence of murder. The saving grace of sacrifice and the reality of separation. The walk of faith and our constant tripping over real life, real problems, real pain.

The short refrain is like a respite for me. When we circle back around to the chanting lully lullay, I can breathe again. I can swim to the surface of the struggle and I can rest.

For more on the song, and to hear an unYaz version, here ya go. 

Leaving a Legacy

by JessicaB

1

 

I live in the house made of nostalgia.

 

My grandmother’s house stands like a neon green memorial to her simple country life. Built in 1963, so little has changed inside or out that crossing the threshold feels a bit like stepping back in time, or unearthing a cinder block time capsule.

 

3

 

On the front porch sits one of the original pews from the little country church down the road, the church where my granny’s name can be found listed as a charter member, the church where she’s buried.  My father and his four brothers called it the “Bench of Truth”.  Whenever mischievous country boys had gotten themselves into trouble they were confined to the bench until the old welding truck pulled up carrying my grandfather home from his daily blue collar toil.

 

2

 

The centerpiece over the fire place, by all accounts understood tacky at its conception, has hung for 50 years because it was homemade by my grandmother’s sister – a housewarming gift. The sister my Alabaman granny followed down to the swamps of south Georgia as a young woman, both of them marrying Georgia boys.

 

5

 

The Wall O’ Grandchildren has greeted me my entire life. I’m pictured nine times, but never after the age of four, when my parents divorced. I never realized that until this year.

 

6

 

The only wall in the entire house that’s not cinder block stands in the dining room and is still plastered with the wallpaper my grandmother picked out in the 60’s.

 

4

 

Every night I sleep in her bed. Every day I cook with her pots. And often times I wonder what it was like to raise five boys out here in the country fifty years ago. No air conditioning, canning tomatoes and putting up corn in the hell of a south Georgian summer.

7

 

I’m just too citified, too modern. And though I routinely try to imagine what a different world once encompassed this house, my imagination fails me.

 

But I don’t take it for granted. I sit here this morning warmed by the same fireplace she warmed by. I watch my dad lovingly water the Easter Lilies each year that she tended.

 

We were never close, me and her. I was yanked from this side of the family so young and the few visits I was allowed are a combination of timid and intimidating in my memory. But I know she loved me. And I know she prayed that one day I would be reunited with my dad.

 

She’s been gone 20 years. But last night my children slept  under the same roof as their grandfather, and one of them was wrapped up in the quilt she made and designated for me a lifetime before I was able to claim it.

 

This morning my kids ate cornflakes from her old corelle cereal bowls and sat at the table where she rolled out her famous homemade dumplings.

 

Our two lives had very little overlap in one sense. And yet she continues to bless me.

 

I guess that’s what it’s like to leave a legacy.

 

 

No Crying He Makes

by Gretchen

When I was a kid, music was an important element of the holiday season. It wasn’t Christmas until my mom spun The Ray Conniff Singers’ We Wish You a Merry Christmas album on the turntable. We were the Whos down in Whoville singing hand-in-hand. We were the Peanuts gang shirking play practice to dance wildly to Schroeder’s stylings. We were the troublemaking mouse saving Christmas with a clock’s midnight song. Do you hear what I hear? A song, a song, high above the trees. Also, in our yellow-carpeted living room with a handsome, stately, hopelessly out-of-tune piano.

I’d open the piano bench lid and spelunk through sheet music for the gaudily-illustrated Golden Book Christmas Carols. I was self-taught and played poorly, but one of my favorites to bang out from the book was Away in a Manger. I could always count on my Catholic dad to note, with faux bluster and indignation, “That’s a Lutheran song!” Family legend tells his grandmother forbade anyone from singing or playing Away in a Manger because she said it was written by that loathsome Martin Luther. It was not.

Even if it were written by him, scrawled in ink by candlelight while his hunched back and horns cast a fierce, devilish silhouette on the wall, how could she have objected to these words?

Away in a manger
No crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus
lay down his sweet head.
The stars in the sky
look down where he lay.
The little Lord Jesus
asleep on the hay.

Fiendish! This is where Martin Luther stopped. He put down his feather, arched his back and with a defiant cackle, devised verse two.

The cattle are lowing,
the baby awakes.
But little Lord Jesus
no crying he makes.
I love thee Lord Jesus
look down from the sky,
and stay by my cradle
’til morning is nigh.

This is where the song goes off the rails: “No crying he makes…”

A lie, right in the middle of a Christmas lullaby? Even Santa Baby is more truthful than this. She wants a yacht and really? That’s not a lot.

nocryinghemakesdf2

Jesus was just like any other newborn. He probably went through the post-birth Keanu whoa phase of shocked awareness and nursing. Then he passed out for a good long nap in the manger. A cow bellows, he startles, and the squawking commences. That’s okay. That’s awesome. That’s our Jesus, becoming flesh to know us, to grow up, to teach us, to die for us, to redeem us, to return.

When my kids sing the song or hear it played, I don’t want them to think the ideal is to not cry. In fact, Christmas is the weepiest, messiest, leaky-faced season there is. It’s loaded with minefields of memory, regret, emotion, and complicated family histories. It’s pregnant with beauty, awe, and wonder which can also cause tear ducts to bust. When baby Jesus cried, and he did, there were two very special people there to cradle, feed, kiss, and sing.

I wonder about those songs he heard in his little curved ears. From angel voices to teenaged mama, he moved. He was soothed while he soothed her right back.

LOVE IS ALL AROUND

by JenJ

I’ve been a Dave Matthews fan for years. I didn’t really pay attention to his melodies in high school or college, but when that funny little online program called “Napster” came along, I was pulled into the Lillywhite Sessions and then Crash and then his catalog of what my friends and I called “the best date songs”, never mind the fact that none of us was dating anyone at the time.

I like his raspy voice and his blend of upbeat music and slow stuff.

For a while there, he was a BIG DEAL. He was THE artist that everyone loved. He was making oodles of money and his fame preceded him.

Then he made a radical choice and recorded a little acoustic album of old and new stuff at Luther College. And it blew my mind. Sure, the album had some favorites, but what really rocked my world was a track called Christmas Song.

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

I was a Christian, so this story wasn’t unknown to me. At the time – and sadly, for many years – it didn’t give me much pause, but rather made me like my music icon even more. I told everyone it was my favorite Christmas song. The guitar, the raspy voice, the story of Jesus’ birth…I loved it all.

Years went by and I listened during each holiday, forcing all my friends and family hear it, as well. But then I really paid attention to the lyrics.

This is not just a holiday tune, my friends…this is the story of Salvation.

Preparations were made
For his celebration day
He said “eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be”
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this anger have you fill
Me up with love
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children all around

This famous musician, at the pinnacle of his career, shared the story of our Savior’s life in song. This must have been a VERY bold move at the time.

And I missed that…

I missed that he was stepping WAY out into faith to tell a story that doesn’t always go over so well in rock and roll. Listen, I don’t know much about Dave’s walk with the Lord, but I do know that he was able to boldly share in a way that I only wish I have over the years.

All too often, we get tripped up in who can preach, how sermons should be given, and what kinds of churches/denominations are “the best”…the Church is messy and sometimes I contribute to that mess. But then I’m reminded by my old pal Dave Matthews, that Love is all around.

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